Students Rally for Extended Day- Passes at MTA Headquarters — by Ron Kipling Williams

Students Rally for Extended Day- Passes at MTA Headquarters — by Ron Kipling Williams

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Students brave freezing cold temparatures to rally for transportation rights. Photo: Marina Saenz-Luna

“The issue is safety,” said Jo Greene, MTA Office of Communications and Marketing Director. “We don’t want students waiting on a bus.”

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Freezing temperatures have hit Baltimore City this year, but it has not stopped Baltimore City students from letting their voices be heard.

“MTA don’t understand, we need a day-pass in our hand,” shouted a gathering of students led by the Baltimore Algebra Project (BAP) in front of Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) headquarters at 6 St. Paul Street on Thursday, February 5.

For about an hour, they circled around the front of the building, shouting slogans while trying to stay warm.

Students are protesting what they believe is a refusal by MTA to issue extended day-passes to students who are engaged in after school clubs, sports events, library and museum visits, and other activities.

Currently, student day-passes are valid until 6:00pm, after which time students will have to pay to board MTA buses.

A few students stood before the bullhorn and recounted stories of being prohibited from boarding buses after their day-pass had expired, many of whom did not have the required fare. Students shouted in response, “That ain’t right!”

During the rally, BAP at times changed its trademark slogan from “No Education, No Life” to “No Day-Pass, No Life.”

In an issued statement, the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS) expressed its support for the students to have extended day-passes.

MTA expressed its support as well, citing public safety and funding as logistical concerns.

“The issue is safety,” said Jo Greene, MTA Office of Communications and Marketing Director. “We don’t want students waiting on a bus.”

Greene has two middle school children in the school system, and is opposed to them riding buses after rush hour. “They don’t need to be on the bus at 8pm,” said Greene.

There are about 30,000 students in BCPSS, and according to MTA, it would require keeping buses on routes, which are normally taken off after rush hour. Additionally, overtime would have to be paid for bus operators, police officers, and other personnel.

“MTA has to subsidize services,” said Greene. “Transporting students who are minors is an additional liability factor.”

There were protesters, however, who asserted that since there were few passengers on commuter buses post rush hour, the increased number of students – a fraction of the 30,000 total students – would not necessitate additional vehicles.

Greene stated that BCPSS has to identify which students are participating in school-sanctioned activities so MTA may issue special passes for them.

Organizers contend that several after school programs are community-based and not under the auspices of BCPSS.

Day-passes cost $3.50. BCPSS is charged $1.10 for each student pass, the remaining balance of which is subsidized by MTA. According to MTA, they do not receive a tax write-off for the subsidy.

For students, however, the real issue is outside perceptions. In a January 28 Baltimore City Council education subcommittee hearing chaired by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a spokesperson for MTA Administrator Paul Wiedefeld said MTA was concerned with the possibility of the increase of “incidents,” adding, “not everyone rides the bus for a good reason.”

According to sources, Clarke is requesting a meeting with city delegates in Annapolis, school officials, and Wiedefeld to discuss these issues.

Greene did emerge from MTA headquarters to address the students, then escorted a couple of the organizers to her office to arrange a meeting between MTA and a delegation of 20 students to address concerns on both sides.